Jeremiah 50:1-46 (27:1-46, LXX)

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The “word of YHWH,” or the message from YHWH, that “Jeremiah the prophet” received “regarding Babylon [the capital city in southern Mesopotamia that was built on both banks of the Euphrates], regarding the land of the Chaldeans,” the region between the Tigris and Euphrates and which had Babylon as its capital. In the Septuagint, the introduction to the judgment of Babylon is, A “word of the Lord that he spoke against Babylon.” (50:1 [27:1, LXX])

As if the event had already occurred, a message about Babylon was to be declared “among the nations” and made heard. In connection with this proclamation, a signal or banner was to be raised (apparently as a sign of the victory over Babylon), and then the message was to be related and not concealed in any way. This message was, “Babylon has been seized. Bel [Belos the undaunted one (LXX)] has been disgraced; Merodach is dismayed [terrified or shattered (Marodach the delicate one is handed over [LXX])]. Her images [those of Babylon] have been put to shame; her idols [literally, “dungy things” (an expression of contempt)] are dismayed,” terrified, or shattered. The title “Bel” means “owner” or “master” and was initially applied to Enlil, the god of Nippur. In time, Merodach or Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, came to be called “Bel.” So, in this context, “Bel” and “Merodach” designate the same deity, and a number of modern translations (CEV, TEV and footnote) indicate this by omitting the reference to Bel. Unable to prevent the fall of Babylon, Bel is represented as being put to shame, and this deity (named Merodach) is represented as dismayed or shattered, terrified because of proving unable to provide aid to the Babylonians or shattered on account of having his images broken to pieces. The images would be exposed as worthless and thus disgraced. (50:2 [27:2, LXX])

The “nation” or the people that came against Babylon from the “north” was primarily composed of Medo-Persian warriors under the command of Cyrus the Persian. This nation is described as reducing the land under the control of Babylon into a desolation, with both man and beast fleeing and going away from the land. In this way, the land is portrayed as devastated and without people and their livestock. (50:3 [27:3, LXX])

The fall of Babylon would open the way for Israelites (“sons of Israel”) from the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and Israelites (“sons of Judah”) from the former kingdom of Judah to leave the regions of their exile. In returning to their homeland they would be unified “in those days and in that [future] time.” On their way, they would continue to “weep” to express their sorrow over having been unfaithful to YHWH, but they may also have shed tears of joy on account of being able to return to their own land. As a repentant people, they would seek “YHWH their God,” wanting an approved relationship with him as his devoted servants. (50:4 [27:4, LXX])

The goal of the Israelite returnees would be Zion. For many of them, it would be a completely unfamiliar route because they had not been among the captives who had decades earlier been taken into exile. Possibly for this reason, they, during the course of the journey, would be asking others among the returning exiles about the way to Zion, and the faces of the returnees would be turned in that direction. The Septuagint says, “They will ask the way to Sion [Zion], for here they will give [set or direct] their face.” The people would say, “Come and let us join ourselves to YHWH [in] an eternal covenant that will not be forgotten.” This could refer to the return of a relationship with YHWH as a people with a renewed resolve to be faithful to the covenant that had been concluded with their forefathers and to adhere to its requirements, not forgetting the covenant as did previous generations. According to the Septuagint, the people would come and “take refuge with the Lord [their] God, for the eternal covenant will not be forgotten.” The expression “eternal covenant” is also found in Jeremiah 32:40 (39:40, LXX). In that context, the “eternal covenant” is apparently the same as the “new covenant” mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Therefore, instead of relating to a renewed determination on the part of the Israelites to conform to the requirements of the covenant concluded centuries earlier, the reference here in verse 5 to the “eternal covenant” may be understood to apply to the “new covenant.” According to the terms of the “new covenant,” those who are beneficiaries thereof are forgiven of their sins and have the laws of YHWH written on their hearts or their inmost selves. They would be persons who truly know him as his devoted people and would be motivated out of deep love for him to do his will. (50:5 [27:5, LXX])

God’s people, the Israelites, had become like a flock of lost or straying sheep — in a vulnerable position that would lead to perishing. Their “shepherds” or their kings who should have looked out for their interests and been exemplary in upholding God’s law caused them to wander or to go astray from being exclusively devoted to their God YHWH. With the active support of the kings, many sites for the worship of foreign deities had been established on hills and mountains, and the people went from “mountain to hill” to engage in idolatrous practices. They “forgot their resting place,” their God and the temple in Jerusalem as the only sacred place for acceptable worship. The people were like sheep who could not find their way back to the safety of the fold. (50:6 [27:6, LXX])

In having become like lost or straying sheep, the Israelites were exposed to enemy attacks, having lost the protective care of YHWH. “All who found them devoured them,” killing many of them in military campaigns. The enemies had no feelings of guilt regarding the extensive slaughter they committed. They are represented as saying that they were not guilty because the Israelites had sinned against YHWH, the “pasture of righteousness and the hope of their fathers ” (“pasture of righteousness to the one gathering their fathers” [LXX]). YHWH was like a true pastureland for his people, providing them everything that they needed for their well-being. As the Righteous One, everything that he did for them was just or right. YHWH was the One in whom the forefathers of the Israelites could hope. They could always trust in him to fulfill his promises. The Septuagint rendering appears to represent God as gathering the forefathers of the Israelites (possibly referring to gathering them to form a nation) and making them into his pasture. (50:7 [27:7, LXX])

When Babylon fell to the troops under the command of Cyrus, the way opened for the Israelite exiles to return to their own land. The prophetic directive that then applied was for them to “flee from the midst of Babylon” and to “go out from the land of the Chaldeans” (the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). They were the first ones to seize the opportunity to leave, being like the male goats that push their way to the front of the flock after the gate of the enclosure is opened. According to the Septuagint, the Israelite exiles were to become like aliens or be separated out “from the midst of Babylon and from the land of the Chaldeans” and to “go out and become like dragons before the face of sheep [or before sheep].” (50:8 [27:8, LXX])

YHWH purposed to arouse and bring up against Babylon a “great assembly of nations from the land of the north.” This would be a great military force that would invade the land of Chaldea. The warriors would array themselves against the capital Babylon and capture the city. In the phrase that follows regarding “arrows” and a “mighty man” or warrior, the meaning depends on which manuscript readings are adopted. “Their arrows are like those of a skilled warrior.” “Their arrows are like those of a warrior who bereaves” (or causes bereavement of children). (Tanakh, main text and footnote [JPS, 1985 edition]) In the Septuagint, the wording about the “arrow” is, “as an arrow of an expert warrior will not return empty” or without results. Modern translations usually have not chosen to follow a Hebrew text that includes the thought of bereavement. “Their arrows are like those of a skilled warrior who never returns empty-handed.” (REB) “They are skillful hunters, shooting arrows that never miss the mark.” (TEV) “The arrows they shoot are like the best soldiers, always finding their target.” (CEV) “Their arrows, like an experienced soldier’s, never return in vain.” (NJB) The basic message was that the military force battling against Babylon would triumph. (50:9 [27:9, LXX])

For the attacking military force (which proved to be the troops under the command of Cyrus), the land of the Chaldeans would become booty. All the warriors who would be despoiling Chaldea would be completely sated, seizing an abundance of spoils. This was certain to happen, for it was the declaration of YHWH. (50:10 [27:10, LXX])

The message from YHWH revealed the reason for the severe judgment to be executed against the land of the Chaldeans and its capital Babylon. This reason was the warring of the Chaldean military force against YHWH’s inheritance or possession, his people and the land that he had given to them. The warriors rejoiced and exulted in their triumphs and in plundering his inheritance. These victorious warriors may here be likened to a heifer treading grain and, therefore, able to feed at will on some of the grain. They are also compared to neighing stallions, perhaps on account of their exultant shouting over their triumphs. According to the Septuagint, they were leaping “like calves in a pasture” and butting or goring “like bulls.” (50:11 [27:11, LXX])

The “mother” of the Chaldeans, including the warriors, was the city of Babylon. As a conquered city, this “mother” would be disgraced. In her role as one having given birth to the people (a “mother for good” [LXX]), she would come to disappointment, apparently on account of the loss of many of her children in war. Babylon, the capital city, also represented the nation. Upon suffering the humiliation of defeat, the nation would become last or least of the nations, ceasing to have any significant position. “Mother” Babylon would be reduced to a dry wilderness and a barren desert. (50:12 [27:12, LXX])

YHWH’s anger would be directed against Babylon, particularly because of what the Chaldean troops did to his people and the land he had given to them. His wrath against Babylon would mean destruction for the city, reducing it to an uninhabited place and a waste or a state of utter ruin. Passersby would be appalled, finding it hard to believe how the impressive city could have become such a desolate place. They would hiss or whistle because of all the blows that had been directed against Babylon. This hissing or whistling could be an expression of derision and shock. It is also possible that the hissing or whistling would be prompted by the superstitious fear that the ruins of Babylon had become a haunt for demons. (50:13 [27:13, LXX])

In having acted against his people with the fury of a ruthless military power, Babylon had sinned against YHWH. Therefore, he purposed to bring severe punitive judgment upon Babylon and the people of the land of Chaldea, letting the Medo-Persian troops carry out this judgment. The directive to all those “treading the bow” was to array themselves round about Babylon to launch the attack. “Treading the bow” refers to stringing it. The foot would be placed in the middle of the bow to bend it, and then the unattached string would be tied to the opposite side of the bow. After preparing their bows for battle action, the archers were to shoot, sparing no arrow for use in warfare against Babylon. (50:14 [27:14, LXX])

The attacking warriors were to raise a shout or a war cry round about Babylon. The city is then represented as giving “her hand” or surrendering. In the Septuagint, the warriors are directed to “applaud exceedingly” over Babylon because “her hands were paralyzed” (apparently powerless to launch a successful defense) and because the city fortifications had fallen. As if it had already taken place, the bulwarks of Babylon are said to have fallen and her walls torn down. This would take place in expression of YHWH’s vengeance. It would be retributive judgment, for the Chaldean troops had carried out widespread conquests and devastation. Therefore, the divine directive was, “As she [Babylon] has done, do to her.” (50:15 [27:15, LXX])

The military action against Babylon was to disrupt agricultural operations, and agricultural workers were not to be spared from perishing as victims of war. Both sower (“seed” [LXX]) and reaper (“the one handling a sickle in the time of harvest”) were to be “cut off” or annihilated. On account of the wielding of the sword (“Greek sword” [LXX]) in the land of Chaldea and against Babylon, foreigners living there would flee to their own people and their own land. (50:16 [27:16, LXX])

Israel is described as a sheep that had been scattered or lost and, therefore, was vulnerable to other nations that acted like beasts of prey or lions toward the people. These lions, in the form of foreign powers, had dispersed the Israelites like sheep, taking them as captives into exile or causing them to flee in all directions in an effort to escape from the sword of warfare. First, the “king of Assyria” had devoured Israel, conquering the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and causing extensive devastation in the kingdom of Judah. Then, at the last, “Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar (not included in the Septuagint)] the king of Babylon” finished off the “bones” of Israel, for he conquered the kingdom of Judah with his troops and left the land of Judah in a devastated state. (50:17 [27:17, LXX])

“Therefore” (because of what the king of Babylon had done), “YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service (the Lord [LXX])], the God of Israel” said, “Look, I am visiting [giving attention to for the purpose of punishing (taking vengeance on [LXX])] the king of Babylon and his land as I visited [took vengeance on] the king of Assyria.” YHWH visited punishment upon the “king of Assyria” when he permitted the combined troops of Babylonian king Nabopolassar the father of Nebuchadnezzar and of Cyaxares the Mede to capture the Assyrian capital Nineveh. According to a Babylonian chronicle, the warriors carried off abundant booty and turned the “city into a ruin heap.” (50:18 [27:18, LXX])

YHWH promised to bring the Israelites (literally, “Israel”) back to their “pasture” or their own land. In the regions of Carmel and Bashan (not included in the Septuagint), they would be able to pasture or graze like sheep or be abundantly supplied with sustenance. Their “soul” or they themselves would be fully satisfied in the hill country of Ephraim and Gilead (Galaad [LXX]). All of the mentioned areas were part of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Parts of the Carmel Range, extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the plain of Dothan, were very fruitful, with flourishing olive groves and grapevines. Bashan, an extensive region east of the Sea of Galilee, was an ideal area for agriculture and provided excellent pastureland for flocks and herds. To the south of Bashan lay Gilead, also a fertile region that benefited from abundant winter rains and heavy dew in summer. Although Ephraim on the west side of the Jordan River was a mountainous and hilly region, it contained fertile soil. The reference to these different areas in the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel suggests that Israelites from the ten tribes would be restored to their own land. (50:19 [27:19, LXX])

“In those days and at that time” when the repentant Israelites would have been able to return to their own land, they would no longer be engaging in the idolatrous practices that resulted in their loss of YHWH’s protection and blessing. YHWH is quoted as saying that a search for the “iniquity of Israel” would not locate such among the descendants of the former inhabitants of the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Likewise, such a search would not lead to finding any “sins of Judah” or sins of the descendants of the former inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah. This is because YHWH would forgive those whom he would leave as a remnant or a repentant remnant of Israel and Judah. According to the Septuagint rendering, he would be gracious, kind, or merciful to those left remaining in the land. (50:20 [27:20, LXX])

Merathaim may designate the region where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow into the Persian Gulf. If Pekod may be identified with ancient Puqudu, it was a region of Babylonia east of the Tigris. There is a possibility that Merathaim may mean “double rebellion” and apply to Babylon as the place of great rebellion against YHWH. The directive to a military force was to attack the land of Merathaim and the inhabitants of Pekod. YHWH is quoted as telling this military force, “Slay and destroy. … Do all that I have commanded you.” In the Septuagint, Merathaim and Pekod are not mentioned. The implied directive is to go against Babylon. “‘Go up bitterly against her and against those dwelling in her. Avenge, O sword, and obliterate,’ says the Lord, ‘and do according to all that I am commanding you.’” (50:21 [27:21, LXX])

“In the land” (“of the Chaldeans” [LXX]), there would be a “sound” or noise of war and “great crashing” or the destruction of walls, houses, and other structures. (50:22 [27:22, LXX])

Babylon had functioned “like the hammer of all the earth” or in lands far beyond the borders of Chaldea, crushing other peoples and nations in the course of aggressive military campaigns. But this hammer would be “cut down” (made useless as a hammerhead without a handle) and “broken” (reduced to fragments). “Among the nations,” Babylon, upon going down in humiliating defeat, would come to be a place of horror or astonishment (“obliteration” or desolation [LXX]). (50:23 [27:23, LXX])

YHWH is quoted as having set a snare for Babylon, one in which Babylon would be taken. The reference to Babylon’s not knowing apparently relates to not knowing about this snare, and being caught thereby points to the sudden and unexpected capture of the city. The reason the attacking troops found Babylon in a vulnerable state was because YHWH’s time of judgment had come for the harsh action the Babylonian troops had taken against his people and thereby had made themselves guilty of stirring themselves up or striving against him. In the Septuagint, the act of setting a snare is not attributed to God. It says, “They will attack you, and you will be captured, O Babylon, and you will not know [it]. You were found and seized, for you opposed the Lord.” (50:24 [27:24, LXX]; for the accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon about the fall of Babylon, see the Notes section.)

The “Lord YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the Lord God (LXX)]) is represented as having a “work in the land of the Chaldeans.” That work involved the use of warriors to conquer the country, including the capital Babylon. These warriors are designated as the “weapons of his indignation,” for “the Lord YHWH of hosts” would be using them to express his anger against Babylon for the cruel way in which they had treated his people. As the instruments for his use, the warriors are portrayed as being brought out from his storehouse or armory. (50:25 [27:25, LXX])

Troops would be coming against Babylon from distant parts or from every quarter. They were to “open her granaries” or storage facilities, apparently to seize everything that had been stored. For the warriors to pile up Babylon “like heaps” could mean that they should pile up the spoils and then take whatever they wanted. A measure of obscurity in the Hebrew text has given rise to a number of interpretive renderings in modern translations. “Pile up the loot like heaps of grain.” (TEV) “Crush her walls and houses into heaps of rubble.” (NLT) “Pile up the grain from its storehouses and destroy it completely, along with everything else.” (CEV) Babylon was to be thoroughly destroyed, with nothing being left remaining. The text of the Septuagint differs significantly. “For her times have come [the times for the execution of judgment against Babylon]. Open her storage places; search her like a cave, and annihilate her. Let nothing remain of her.” (50:26 [27:26, LXX])

The “bulls” that were to be killed and go down “to the slaughter”either represent the leaders of Babylon or the valiant warriors. In the Septuagint, the reference is to drying up all the “fruit” of Babylon. This rendering may have arisen when the translator read the Hebrew word for “bulls” as a derivative of the root of the Hebrew word for “fruit.” Woe or calamity is pronounced upon the “bulls,” “for their day” had come, the “time of their visitation” or the time for their punishment. (50:27 [27:27, LXX])

The “sound” could refer to that of those fleeing and making their escape “from the land of Babylon.” In Zion or Jerusalem, they then tell about how YHWH their God exacted vengeance for what the Babylonians had done to them and his temple in Jerusalem. Modern translations vary in their renderings about the way in which the sound relates to the wording of the rest of the verse. “Listen to the people who have escaped from Babylon, as they tell in Jerusalem how the LORD our God has taken vengeance against those who destroyed his Temple.” (NLT) “I hear the fugitives escaping from the land of Babylon to proclaim in Zion the vengeance of the LORD our God, the vengeance he takes for his temple.” (REB) “Listen! the fugitives, the refugees from the land of Babylon: They announce in Zion the retribution of the LORD, our God.” (NAB, revised edition) “Refugees escape from Babylonia and come to Jerusalem, and they tell how the LORD our God took revenge for what the Babylonians had done to his Temple.” (TEV) “The Babylonian army destroyed my temple, but soon I will take revenge. Then refugees from Babylon will tell about it in Zion.” (CEV) (50:28 [27:28, LXX])

“Archers” were to be summoned against Babylon. They would be all the warriors who would be “treading the bow.” (See verse 14 about “treading the bow.”) Troops were to encamp all around Babylon and permit no one to escape from the city. Through their triumphant warring against Babylon, the warriors were to repay Babylon for everything that her military force had done in aggressive campaigns of conquest. Especially was there to be a repayment for what the Babylonian troops did when acting insolently against YHWH, the “Holy One of Israel.” Their insolent action included treating his people ruthlessly and destroying his temple. (50:29 [27:29, LXX])

“Therefore (on account of the insolent deeds), the young men of Babylon would be slain in the squares of the city, and all the warriors would be “silenced” (“thrown down” [LXX]) in death as casualties of war. In the day of retribution for Babylon, this was certain to happen, for it was the declaration of YHWH. (50:30 [27:30, LXX])

Babylon, including the entire realm, appears to be designated as the “insolent” or “arrogant one” for what it had done to YHWH’s people and his temple, and he was against this “insolent one.” “YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the “Lord” (LXX)]) declared that the “day” for the “insolent one” had come, the time when he would “visit” it to mete out punitive judgment. (50:31 [27:31, LXX])

The “insolent” or “arrogant one” would “stumble and fall” as a conquered city and kingdom. After this fall, there would be no one who could raise Babylon to the former position as the dominant power in the region. YHWH declared that he would ignite a fire in the Babylonian cities (“in her forest” [LXX]), and that fire would consume all the surroundings. (50:32 [27:32, LXX])

“YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the “Lord”]) is quoted as saying that the “sons of Israel” (the people of the former ten-kingdom of Israel) and the “sons of Judah” (the people of the former kingdom of Judah) were “oppressed.” Those taking them captive after the conquest held them fast, refusing to let them go or to return to their own land. (50:33 [27:33, LXX])

Although the Babylonians were determined not to release the exiles, they would not be able to retain them in a captive condition. They were no match for YHWH, the God with hosts of angels in his service (“YHWH of hosts [is] his name” [Lord Almighty (is) his name (LXX)]) and the “redeemer” or deliverer of his people. As “redeemer” he is “strong,” with no one in position to resist him. YHWH would defend the cause of his people, and give “rest to the earth” or peace to the land of his people and to the other regions that had experienced great upheaval and devastation from Babylonian campaigns of conquest. The inhabitants of Babylon, however, would come to have unrest, becoming the victims of military defeat. According to the Septuagint, the Lord Almighty “will judge” his adversaries with “judgment” or render a a punitive sentence against them. This would result in removing “the land,” perhaps meaning taking the land away from Babylonian control, and then provoking the inhabitants of Babylon or causing upheaval among them through military action against them. (50:34 [27:34, LXX])

YHWH declared that the “sword” of warfare would be directed against the Chaldeans or Babylonians, those residing in the capital city Babylon, and the princes, nobles or high officials and wise men there. (50:35 [27:35, LXX]) This sword would also come against the diviners or empty talkers, resulting in their being exposed as fools who were unable to provide advance warning about the coming attack or to advise how to counter it successfully. With the sword coming against the warriors, they would be dismayed, terrified, or shattered. (50:36 [27:36, LXX]; see the Notes section.) Everything on which the Babylonians relied for defense would become the object of the sword — horses, chariots, a mixed company (“hired soldiers” [TEV], “allies from other lands” [NLT], “foreigners in your army” [CEV]). That the designation “mixed company” probably applies to mercenaries or foreign troops is suggested by the reference to their becoming like women or weak, not valiant. The sword of war would come upon the treasures, resulting in their being plundered. According to the Septuagint, they would be scattered, possibly indicating that they would be seized and taken to various places. (50:37 [27:37, LXX])

The first word in the Hebrew text is spelled with the same consonants as the nouns for “drought” or “devastation” and “sword.” According to the Masoretic Text, the vowel points are those for “drought” or “devastation” (chórev), but a footnote in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia provides the alternate reading chérev (“sword”). This difference is also apparent from the renderings in modern translations. “A sword over her waters, and they will dry up.” (REB) “A drought upon the waters, and they dry up!” (NAB, revised edition) Invading troops would bring ruin to irrigation canals and wells or springs, ruining growing crops as would drought. The drying up of waters could refer to what happened when the Medo-Persian military diverted the waters of the Euphrates, making it possible for the warriors to wade through the river to gain access into Babylon through the gates that had not been barred shut. It may well be, however, that the drying up of waters refers to drying up irrigation canals and other sources of water in Chaldea or Babylonia. A number of modern translations are more specific in conveying a similar meaning. “Your rivers and canals will dry up.” (CEV) “A drought will strike her water supply, causing it to dry up.” (NLT) “Bring a drought on its land and dry up its rivers.” (TEV) The drying up of the waters was to occur because Chaldea was a land of idols. There is a measure of uncertainty about the relationship of the next phrase to idols. One possibility is that the idols are referred to as “dreadful things” that caused the Babylonians to be maddened, for the deities the images represented provided no guidance or help. Modern translations contain a variety of different meanings. “… the whole land is filled with idols, and the people are madly in love with them.” (NLT) “All of this will happen, because your land is full of idols, and they made fools of you.” (CEV) “Babylonia is a land of terrifying idols that have made fools of the people.” (TEV) “For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror.” (NIV) “For it is a land of idols that glories in its dreaded gods.” (REB) “For it is a land of idols, soon made frantic by phantoms.” (NAB, revised edition) “For Babylon is a land full of abominable idols that have robbed its inhabitants of reason.” (Denn Babylonien ist ein Land voll abscheulicher Götzenstatuen, die seinen Bewohnern den Verstand geraubt haben. German, Hoffnung für alle) In the Septuagint, the words of verse 38 are linked to those of verse 37. “And the [treasures] will be scattered on [over or by] her water, and they will be disgraced, for it is a land of carved things [carved images], and in the islands [is] where they were boasting.” (50:38 [27:38, LXX])

“Therefore” (on account of the sword that would come against Babylon and desolate the city), “yelpers” (wild beasts or desert animals) would eventually dwell “with howlers” (possibly jackals or hyeans); and in desolated Babylon, “daughters of greed” or ostriches (birds that can survive for a considerable period without water [daughters of Sirens (LXX)]) would make their home. Babylon would cease to be a place for people to live. The city would remain an uninhabited place from generation to generation. After the Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus conquered Babylon, the city did not become an uninhabited city but this did occur in later centuries and continued thereafter. (50:39 [27:39, LXX]); see the Notes section.)

The final condition of Babylon is likened to what God did when overthrowing Sodom and Gomorrah, along with the “neighbor” towns of Admah and Zeboiim. (Deuteronomy 29:23) No “man” would dwell in Babylon, and no “son of man” (earthling or person) would live there temporarily as an alien. (50:40 [27:40, LXX])

The initial “look” serves to draw attention to what would happen to Babylon. “From the north,” a “people” would be coming. A “great” or “mighty nation” and “many kings” would be stirred or aroused from the remote parts of the “earth” (regions far from Babylon) to engage in a military campaign. This “people” or “great nation” was the mighty military force that invaded Babylonia and conquered the capital city Babylon. The Medo-Persian invaders under the command of Cyrus included warriors from regions to the north of Babylon. Much of Media was located northeast of Babylon, and Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz, realms then under the control of the Medes, were north of Babylon. (Jeremiah 51:27) According to Isaiah 21:2, the military force would also include Elamites. With the warriors being from numerous regions, there would also be “many kings” or rulers among them. It appears that the troops would have come to the city of Babylon from the north. It may also be that, in this context, the designation “north” represents a region from which serious threats originate. (50:41 [27:41, LXX])

The warriors would be skilled in handling the bow and javelin or spear. In their attack, they would be cruel and show no mercy. The large military force, including many horses, would sound like the roaring of the sea as the troops continued their advance through Babylonia. As one man, the warriors would be arrayed for battle against the “daughter [or city] of Babylon.” According to the Septuagint, they would be “prepared like fire for battle,” ready to devastate and conquer. (50:42 [27:42, LXX])

The report about the great military invasion would terrify the king of Babylon. His “hands” would drop or fall helpless (become paralyzed [LXX]). He would experience great distress and be seized with pain like that of a woman in labor. Nabonidus, the king of the Babylonian Empire, suffered defeat in battle against the troops under the command of Cyrus and then took refuge in the city of Borsippa. News about this defeat must have terrified his firstborn son, the crown prince Belshazzar, who exercised kingly authority in the capital city Babylon. (50:43 [27:43, LXX]; compare Daniel 5:5, 6.)

The initial “look” focuses attention on what YHWH was about to do. He, by means of the agency of his choosing (the troops under the command of Cyrus), is represented as coming up “like a lion from the pride of the Jordan” [the dense thickets of thorns, thistles, bushes, vines, poplars, willows, and other vegetation along the banks of the river] to a perennial pasture.” Chaldea or Babylonia here apparently is likened to a lush pasture that continues to be green throughout the year. As a lion would come out of the thickets of the Jordan to seize prey from the flock grazing in the pasture, YHWH would use the Medo-Persian military force under Cyrus to attack and conquer. The ones he would then suddenly cause to run away may be the Babylonians who would scatter in panic. Over the defeated kingdom, he would appoint a man of his choice. In the fulfillment, this proved to be Cyrus. The Hebrew text continues with rhetorical questions. “For who is like me? Who will summon me? And what shepherd can stand before my face [or before me]?” There was no one like YHWH (the God with no equal), no one who could summon him for a confrontation, and no shepherd or ruler who could take his stand against him in defense of his flock or his subjects. (50:44 [27:44, LXX]; compare 49:19 and see the Notes section.)

The imperative directed to the “men,” apparently the Babylonians, was for them to “hear the counsel [or determination] of YHWH” that he had “counseled” or devised “against Babylon” and his “thoughts” or purposes that he had “thought” or purposed “against the land of the Chaldeans.” “Little ones of the flock” would be “dragged” away. These “little ones” (“lambs of their sheep” [LXX]) may be understood to be very young children. This significance is explicit in a number of modern translations. “Even the little children will be dragged off like sheep.” (NLT) “Even their children will be dragged off.” (TEV) “Your children will be dragged off.” (CEV) It appears that the “pasture” or land where these “little ones” had their place of dwelling is personified and depicted as being appalled or horrified over them or their fate. Modern translations vary in the meaning they convey. “Their pasture will be aghast at their fate.” (REB) “Their own pasture [shall be] aghast because of them.” (NAB, revised edition) “He will completely destroy their pasture because of them.” (NIV) “Their pastures will certainly be sacked before their eyes!” (NJB) “Everyone will be horrified.” (TEV) “Their homes will be destroyed.” (NLT) The Septuagint rendering indicates that “the lambs of their sheep” would be killed and that the pasture would be removed from them. (50:45 [27:45, LXX]; see 49:20 [29:21(30:14), LXX] for nearly identical wording.)

The “sound” of the capture of Babylon would cause the “earth” or land to “quake,” particularly the extensive region that Babylon had controlled. The change from a state as the dominant power in the region to one of debasement as a defeated people would be comparable to the effect from a powerful earthquake. An outcry of distress (“her cry” or the cry of Babylon) over the calamity would be heard “among the nations.” The report of what had happened to Babylon and the Babylonians would spread extensively over a vast area. (50:46 [27:46, LXX]; see 49:21 [29:22(30:15), LXX] for similar wording.)


As translated by G. C. Macaulay (with minor changes), the following is the account of Herodotus (fifth century BCE) concerning the fall of Babylon (I, 190, 191):

“When Cyrus had taken vengeance on the river Gyndes by dividing it into three hundred and sixty channels, and when the next spring was just beginning, then at length he continued his advance upon Babylon: and the men of Babylon had marched forth out of their city and were awaiting him. So when in his advance he came near to the city, the Babylonians joined battle with him, and having been worsted in the fight they were shut up close within their city. But knowing well even before this that Cyrus was not apt to remain still, and seeing him lay hands on every nation equally, they had brought in provisions beforehand for very many years. So while these made no account of the siege, Cyrus was in straits what to do, for much time went by and his affairs made no progress onwards.

“Therefore, whether it was some other man who suggested it to him when he was in a strait what to do, or whether he of himself perceived what he ought to do, he did as follows: The main body of his army he posted at the place where the river runs into the city, and then again behind the city he set others, where the river issues forth from the city; and he proclaimed to his army that so soon as they should see that the stream had become passable, they should enter by this way into the city. Having thus set them in their places and in this manner exhorted them he marched away himself with that part of his army which was not fit for fighting: and when he came to the lake, Cyrus also did the same things which the queen of the Babylonians had done as regards the river and the lake; that is to say, he conducted the river by a channel into the lake, which was at that time a swamp, and so made the former course of the river passable by the sinking of the stream. When this had been done in such a manner, the Persians who had been posted for this very purpose entered by the bed of the river Euphrates into Babylon, the stream having sunk so far that it reached about to the middle of a man’s thigh. Now if the Babylonians had had knowledge of it beforehand or had perceived that which was being done by Cyrus, they would have allowed the Persians to enter the city and then destroyed them miserably; for if they had closed all the gates that led to the river and mounted themselves upon the ramparts which were carried along the banks of the stream, they would have caught them …: but as it was, the Persians came upon them unexpectedly; and owing to the size of the city (so it is said by those who dwell there) after those about the extremities of the city had suffered capture, those Babylonians who resided in the middle did not know that they had been captured; but as they chanced to be holding a festival, they went on dancing and rejoicing during this time until they learned the truth.”

The following (with minor changes) is taken from the translation by Henry Graham Dakyns of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (VII, v, 7-33):

“Cyrus called a council of his officers and said, ‘My friends and allies, we have surveyed the city on every side, and for my part I fail to see any possibility of taking by assault walls so lofty and so strong: on the other hand, the greater the population the more quickly must they yield to hunger, unless they come out to fight. If none of you have any other scheme to suggest, I propose that we reduce them by blockade.’

“Then Chrysantas spoke: ‘Does not the river flow through the middle of the city, and it is not at least a quarter of a mile in width?’ ‘To be sure it is,’ answered Gobryas, ‘and so deep that the water would cover two men, one standing on the other’s shoulders; in fact, the city is even better protected by its river than by its walls.’

“At which Cyrus said, ‘Well, Chrysantas, we must forego what is beyond our power: but let us measure off at once the work for each of us, set to, and dig a trench as wide and as deep as we can, that we may need as few guards as possible.’

“Thereupon Cyrus took his measurements all round the city, and, leaving a space on either bank of the river large enough for a lofty tower, he had a gigantic trench dug from end to end of the wall, his men heaping up the earth on their own side. Then he set to work to build his towers by the river. The foundations were of palm trees, a hundred feet long and more — the palm tree grows to a greater height than that, and under pressure it will curve upwards like the spine of an ass beneath a load. He laid these foundations in order to give the impression that he meant to besiege the town, and was taking precautions so that the river, even if it found its way into his trench, should not carry off his towers. Then he had other towers built along the mound, so as to have as many guard posts as possible. Thus his army was employed, but the men within the walls laughed at his preparations, knowing they had supplies to last them more than twenty years. When Cyrus heard that, he divided his army into twelve, each division to keep guard for one month in the year. At this the Babylonians laughed louder still, greatly pleased at the idea of being guarded by Phrygians and Lydians and Arabians and Cappadocians, all of whom, they thought, would be more friendly to themselves than to the Persians. However by this time the trenches were dug. And Cyrus heard that it was a time of high festival in Babylon when the citizens drink and make merry the whole night long. As soon as the darkness fell, he set his men to work. The mouths of the trenches were opened, and during the night the water poured in, so that the riverbed formed a highway into the heart of the town. When the great stream had taken to its new channel, Cyrus ordered his Persian officers to bring up their thousands, horse and foot alike, each detachment drawn up two deep, the allies to follow in their old order. They lined up immediately, and Cyrus made his own bodyguard descend into the dry channel first, to see if the bottom was firm enough for marching. When they said it was, he called a council of all his generals and spoke as follows:

“‘My friends, the river has stepped aside for us; it offers us a passage by its own high road into Babylon. We must take heart and enter fearlessly, remembering that those against whom we are to march this night are the very men we have conquered before, and that too when they had their allies to help them, when they were awake, alert, and sober, armed to the teeth, and in their battle order. Tonight we go against them when some are asleep and some are drunk, and all are unprepared: and when they learn that we are within the walls, sheer astonishment will make them still more helpless than before. If any of you are troubled by the thought of volleys from the roofs when the army enters the city, I bid you lay these fears aside: if our enemies do climb their roofs we have a god to help us, the god of fire. Their porches are easily set aflame, for the doors are made of palm wood and varnished with bitumen, the very food of fire. And we shall come with the pine torch to kindle it, and with pitch and tow to feed it. They will be forced to flee from their homes or be burned to death. Come, take your swords in your hand: God helping me, I will lead you on. Do you,’ he said, turning to Gadatas and Gobryas, ‘show us the streets, you know them; and once we are inside, lead us straight to the palace.’

“‘So we will,’ said Gobryas and his men, ‘and it would not surprise us to find the palace gates unbarred, for this night the whole city is given over to revelry. Still, we are sure to find a guard, for one is always stationed there.’ ‘Then,’ said Cyrus, ‘there is no time for lingering; we must be off at once and take them unprepared.’

“Thereupon they entered: and of those they met some were struck down and slain, and others fled into their houses, and some raised the hue and cry, but Gobryas and his friends covered the cry with their shouts, as though they were revelers themselves. And thus, making their way by the quickest route, they soon found themselves before the king’s palace. Here the detachment under Gobryas and Gadatas found the gates closed, but the men appointed to attack the guards rushed on them as they lay drinking round a blazing fire, and closed with them then and there. As the din grew louder and louder, those within became aware of the tumult, till, the king bidding them see what it meant, some of them opened the gates and ran out. Gadatas and his men, seeing the gates swing wide, darted in, hard on the heels of the others who fled back again, and they chased them at the sword’s point into the presence of the king.

“They found him on his feet, with his drawn scimitar in his hand. By sheer weight of numbers they overwhelmed him: and not one of his retinue escaped, they were all cut down, some flying, others snatching up anything to serve as a shield and defending themselves as best they could. Cyrus sent squadrons of cavalry down the different roads with orders to kill all they found in the street, while those who knew Assyrian were to warn the inhabitants to stay indoors under pain of death. While they carried out these orders, Gobryas and Gadatas returned, and first they gave thanks to the gods and did obeisance because they had been suffered to take vengeance on their unrighteous king, and then they fell to kissing the hands and feet of Cyrus, shedding tears of joy and gratitude. And when it was day and those who held the heights knew that the city was taken and the king slain, they were persuaded to surrender the citadel themselves.”

Chapter 50 of Jeremiah indicates that the time would come when Babylon would become a desolated city without inhabitants. This did not take place when the city fell to the troops under the command of Cyrus. The prophetic word was fulfilled over the course of centuries.

In verse 36 of chapter 27, the Septuagint only includes the phrase about the warriors and says regarding them that they will be paralyzed. Possibly the omission of the phrase about the diviners is to be attributed to scribal error.

The Septuagint, in verse 39 of chapter 27, opens with the words, “Therefore, apparitions will dwell in the islands.” This rendering suggests that the translator did not understand the Hebrew text.

In verse 44, the Hebrew text and the Septuagint are very much like the wording of verse 19 of chapter 49 (29:20[30:13], LXX). The Septuagint rendering of verse 44 of chapter 27 is, “Look, as a lion from the Jordan he will come up to the place of Aitham, for quickly I will drive them from her, and every young man I will appoint over [or against] her. For who is like me? And who will resist me? And who is this shepherd that will stand against my face [against me]?” The Septuagint translator apparently read the Hebrew adjective for “perennial” as a place name, “Aitham.”